The (Wo)man of the Future
‘Save the Planet – Kill Yourself’ As religious doctrines go, this from Chris Korda’s Church of Euthanasia (CoE) is certainly direct. For thirty years, through song, protest, art and culture jamming, this organisation has warned that ecological disaster can only be averted by ceasing procreation and culling mankind. To this end they have preached the four pillars of their faith – abortion, sodomy, suicide and cannibalism – promoting not only environmentalism, but reproductive rights and sexual freedoms. With the likely repeal of Roe v Wade in the US and the religious right’s complacency about climate change – why delay the end times? – Korda’s message could not be more topical. But for all its directness, the CoE’s beliefs are confusing: what kind of organisation goes against humanity as a whole? And who would join? Even euthanasia and abortion activists are pro-choice, not pro-death. So how should we understand this organisation – as mere parody, a sick joke, or deadly serious? Put in the context of Korda’s broader career, the retrospective ‘The (Wo)Man of the Future’ shows that all her work, even the church, is fundamentally ethical and life-affirming.
Korda’s career spans music, art, performance and software design, but the exhibition starts with the group that made her infamous, the CoE. The church was founded in 1992 by Korda and her friend Pastor Kim, at the beginning of America’s culture wars, when evangelicals sought to collapse church and state, science with faith, rolling back social progress. In many ways Korda’s pro-sodomy, pro-abortion church is an inversion of these values. But what makes the group especially timely, is that it also takes aim at the politics of liberal individualism. This includes Justice Blackmun’s Roe v. Wade ruling that ‘population growth, pollution, poverty and racial overtones tend to complicate and not simplify the problem’ of a woman’s right to choose. Directly countering this logic, the CoE ties these issues together to attack the arrogance of the autonomous, choosing individual – ‘the world revolves around me’ as she puts it in her song ‘Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong’ (1999). So just as archival footage shows Korda clashing with Christian pro-life activists, other works address population saturation, the selfishness of rampant consumerism and capitalist exploitation, or mass media turning environmental and political disaster into pornography for alienated viewers.
The church spread these messages through the language of political populism: bumper-stickers, slogan t-shirts, infomercial style videos such as Buy More or Baby Planet (both 2020/21), and appearances on trash TV. This last example refers to their infamous 1997 appearance on The Jerry Springer Show, where Korda, wearing a sperm motif dress, preached the selfishness of families and the virtues of eating human, not animal flesh since man can consent. Such were their attempts at a detournement of mass media, to provoke viewers into thinking beyond the norm. If Korda’s tactics or slogans seem extreme, they are no more so than those of fire and brimstone evangelicals. Her soundbites call the bluff of pro-life campaigners who personalise abortion as an attack on their own right to live: ‘would you rather I hadn’t been born?’ Korda responds that yes, it would be better for the planet if you had never existed, and anyway foetuses aren’t people, they are ‘FOR SCRAPING.’ The curators Goswell Road have emphasised this accusatory tone by placing Korda’s Population Counter (2019) at the entrance of the exhibition, as if counting in each culpable visitor.
Their attack on liberal gender politics, the preaching of sodomy and Korda’s own identity as a trans woman have led many to view the CoE as a queer project. For sure queer thinkers like Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman oppose the nuclear family, but only as a heteronormative institution excluding other kinds of relationship. Korda is more strictly anti-natalist – what matters is not how the family identifies but that it multiplies, impacting the planet. Queer community and consumption can be just as damaging, so she encourages us all to ‘EAT A QUEER FETUS FOR JESUS’. Where she comes closest to Berlant and Edelman is in opposing the normative subjectivity at the centre of politics. Indeed, Korda’s theology of ending humanity might be understood not literally, but like Derrida’s ‘Ends of Man’ as a critique of the anthropocentric bias behind even the most radical belief systems, to the exclusion of nature or those who are deemed other. Pastor Kim echoes this sentiment when on The Jerry Springer Show he denounces this ‘chauvinistic world in which man is the only being who gets to determine life or death’. Rejecting man and his authority, Korda’s work is less specifically queer than transgressive. Transgressive not in the sense of shock value – although there is plenty of that – but in its embrace of the Dadaist idea that ‘paradox is the only antidote to totalitarian thinking’, exposing the limits to current logics. This is why she has a man-made movement denouncing man, makes infomercials against capitalism, dance music criticising hedonism, or parodies activists who claim to be pro-life but only when that life isn’t gay, poor, or non-human.
The curators have split the exhibition into contrasting halves, between an archival display on the church, all funereal black, abandoned signs and lifeless mannequins depicting man as erased, and another bursting with colour, celebrating life beyond the human. The near psychedelic projection Al Fasawz (2015), made using Triplight software designed by Korda, recalls the early-20th century light-organs of Thomas Wilfred, who found spirituality in scientific innovation and cosmic phenomena. Korda’s Polymeter music programme looks like orbiting planets and allows for the looping of sound in self-similar but non-repeating patterns impossible in the analogue recordings of Steve Reich. Her computerised choral composition Plasmagon (2015) modulates with no edges and no attack, which human singers cannot perform.
But as much as these works suggest the redundancy of man in the age of the digital, each also offers a new ethics of being together. Sound and light elements in Plasmagon modulate by listening to one another, while the innovation of Polymeter is to encourage performers into divergence and convergence, a model of togetherness that allows for difference multiplied and endless. For all the binarity of the technology, Korda bends it to non-binary ends. Korda is a woman of the future, in both the post-gendered, and digital senses. Ultimately the division of the exhibition intentionally collapses. The CoE projects bleed into the spaces of Korda’s later work, suggesting that what she has been calling for all along is a new kind of humanity, a new way of coexisting with others without subordination or homogenisation.
It is perhaps strange to suggest that there’s something kind and considerate about a project that promotes slogans like ‘EAT PEOPLE NOT ANIMALS’ or ‘give your life meaning, kill yourself’. The philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle argued that the opposite of gentleness was not violence, but a false kindness, masking indifference. This is the gentleness of positive thinking and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ that detaches from the world by refusing to confront difficulties, ‘paralyzing the future as well as the present’ rather than engaging realities directly, as Korda does. True gentleness must have an element of negation in order to progress to a kinder world. Korda, for all her critical antinatalism, is far from nihilistic – after all, why bother campaigning if you think man is a lost cause? – asking us to look forwards and change our ways, or else we need to, in the words of one of her recent tracks ‘Apologize To The Future’.